Tag Archive: xenophobia

This is a response to yesterday’s shared anonymous letter, What About Bob? and so if you have not read that yet, start there and then come back here and continue. Alexa is a good friend of mine who has been involved in many of the conversations we have had on race, reconciliation, restitution and other terms that may not begin with R but this is stuff she is passionate about and doing her best to live well. She has also contributed to this blog on a number of occasions such as sharing about one person who gives her hope in South Africa, a personal shout out to South Africa as well as some thoughts from a married person to the single people in and around here life. So if you enjoy this, please go and check those out…

But in the meantime, here are some of her thoughts in response to Bob


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Dear Bob,

I read your letter to Brett and heard some of your frustration. Much of what you expressed are common themes that I have heard amongst the white community.

Just to contextualise me:

White, female, CpTownian, Have lived in a desert wilderness, have lived and working in Mozambique, have lived & worked in a corporate context in JHB, have worked in impoverished communities too in Cape Town & JHB. In South Africa, very sadly impoverished correlates with black and coloured.

One of the most helpful things I have ever heard said was that we need to talk about poverty and race without being racist – the reason I mention this is that the majority of people calling for change or transformation are people still living with poverty which looks and feels exactly like it did under apartheid. Yes in terms of the constitution we are all said to be equal but in terms of what life looks like we definitely don’t have the same starting blocks for whatever life journey we want to pursue. We need to recognise South Africa’s intersection of race and class if we are wanting to understand some of the current frustrations: Yes, it’s been 21 years, so it’s not ALL about what you or I do anymore, and we have leaders who serve themselves often rather than the country, but we also need to recognise the following:

Saying that “I am sorry, this was wrong,” doesn’t mean that I am guilty of implementing something bad. It does mean that I see your hurt, your anger and know that purely by being born into the family I was I had different starting blocks. Saying I am sorry is about recognising the untold hurt of the past and the frustrations of the present – many of which are due to the past.

Saying I am sorry or acknowledging that this was wrong goes beyond just ‘sorry’ – it’s also about being willing to ask and engage with how do we repair the past? Relationally, economically, socially?

Bob, as I read your letter, I was reminded of a conversation that I had with a (white) friend recently. Her statement to me was:

“I am not ugly to people, I am not just going to be friends with someone because they are different to me (that doesn’t feel sincere) and why can’t we be nice to each other? I am not political and don’t want to get political but I am tired of be past being hauled up and people looking at me when I wasn’t a part of it all.”

This friend really does believe that all people are equal and has been in situations where she was often the only white person at a party while she was studying, but as years have gone by, her friendships circles have shifted into areas of interest and remained quite pale in their diversity.

Parts of our conversation that unfolded after this was as follows:

* “If we truly want to see healing then actually we do need to be willing to befriend people whose stories are different to us. We need to be willing to be the uncomfortable ones who don’t always understand or fit in. It might not seem genuine initially but we can’t begin to understand the perspective or where we fit or don’t fit if we aren’t willing to listen and to hear and to be in spaces where things are understood differently to people who think like us.

Putting it differently if it came out that a friend had been in an abusive relationship for a long time and we weren’t aware of it, we would want to do everything we could to help that friend heal, to be safe, to get a GOOD fresh start and want to support and understand.

If we aren’t willing to start engaging with a friend whose story we don’t know or understand, even if we don’t identify with being abused or being the abuser, it is very hard to actually be a part of their healing.

The people we care about are the ones who we want to engage with. If we aren’t meeting and forming relationships with other people it’s really hard to develop any understanding of their story”

The reality is that the cracks in our story of unity are showing. We celebrated freedom together, but we never really healed together.

As the white community, very little about our lives actually changed, other than an increased competition in the workspace and perhaps seeing a greater mix of people (depending where we are in terms of relationship as well as geographically) socially.

Our story of unity for the most part has been a one sided story for most of us. We still weren’t, unless we asked to be told and were able to sit with the answers, aware of the cost to most of our peers and the broader South African community. In order to create a shared narrative, we need to go through the frustrating for some, redevelopment of a story where those were quiet get to speak and those of us who have already spoken get to listen.

I hate that before I have opened my mouth, perceptions exist about who I am or what I think. The reality though is that from a race perspective this has been there for years and the filter towards people of colour (regardless of their ethnicity) has been marred by different stereotypes or beliefs, which weren’t always positive. I think that as the white community we escaped this for the longest time due in part to the sameness of most of our contexts and now we are needing to recognise that we ALL have filters.

Ironically race has been the proverbial white elephant in the room and yet it’s us, as the white community who struggle to engage with it. #RhodesMustFall highlighted this in many ways – Shaka was violent yes, but in a very different context and story and all we seem to do by responding with Shaka is reveal this struggle.

Too often I have heard that the black community has been gracious, over and over, in wanting to engage and waiting for any kind of indication that the white community is wanting to see transformation and engage with, but that we aren’t standing up, and asking how and showing willingness to engage in these spaces. Too often I have heard it’s because we don’t want to let go of the benefits we enjoy still so that we can share the space better.

Anger and unresolved, unspoken, deep hurt from the past has to go somewhere – and if aren’t part of the somewhere, through listening, through being willing to be present with, then we will lose our sense of purpose in this.

I get frustrated, I get hurt at times when I perceive the anger to be switching to a place of hate but I am realising more and more that the more I engage, intentionally and listen, in these spaces that hope is returning.

We need you Bob and we need your wrestling. We need you to be asking the question of where and how you can contribute. We need you to stand shoulder to shoulder with the rest of us wanting to see this change. We need you to stand quietly and listen and maybe even weep with us when people share their realities. We also need you to be speaking up and out and shouting that I want to be a part but I am not sure where.

We need you.

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[To read the original email from Bob, click here]


i get it, South Africa is in a bit of a mess right now, and that statement is a bit of an understatement.

And yes, xenophobia might not be the correct word, but it’s the one most people understand and so it does seem to work for now so please don’t let us get distracted by that.

With this whole Xenophobia vibe, there are two truths:

[1] One truth is violence, fear, destruction, hate

[2] Another truth is peace marches, shelter, protection and life.

The problem on social media this past week, as far as i can tell, is that for the most part only one truth has been emphasised.

While it is important for us to be aware of what is going on [i think we all are by now, yes?] i think we need to realise the responsibility each of us has in the way we share the truth, or the way we choose which truth to share.

Neither of the two truths is the whole truth.

Yes, we would love to see the government more involved, or at least more vocal, and this is definitely something the police and maybe even the military need to be involved in, but again, we have a responsibility outside of that. Whether they do or not and whether it is in a way that is helpful or not, each of us can play our part.

And while i don’t know what the actual answers are when it comes to the actual violence that is happening [besides possibly showing up in numbers and saying “Not on our watch!” although it is hard to know where to go] i do know that we can do our part. And much better than we have.

Fear breeds more fear. Hate breeds panic. Violence breeds hopelessness and disillusionment.

i think it is important for us to take a deep breath and realise that these incidents are actually representative of the minority [which you would not think if you took notice of all the negativity being shared, forwarded, liked and eaten up].

Which is why i have committed myself [and am calling on others] to start to share more of the positive truths that are true of so many of the people of South Africa [of all races, social classes, areas, genders etc].

Let us be more excited to share the good that is happening so that other people who are feeling fearful and hopeless and despondent might be encouraged and motivated to get up and become part of more good, seeing that it does happen and is working.

i don’t even have an idea why people share videos of violence on social media – yes, it’s important we know it is happening, but if we choose to watch it, then i think a little piece of our humanity leaves through the window. Fortunately we’ve been so desensitised by television and movie violence that we don’t even care…

So what i am suggesting and inviting you to do, is to become greater sharers of the more positive truth.

Like this story by my mate Rob from Zimbabwe which is hugely positive and encouraging and representative of stuff he is seeing all the time over there.

Like these stories i am trying to post every week by someone in South Africa sharing the story of someone else in South Africa who is doing something [big or small] that gives them hope.

Like this tab on my blog looking at South Africa and different aspects of how we can move positively forward or just celebrate some of the beautiful kalidoscope of who we are

And more. We live in a beautiful country and we need to claim it both in word and deed, online and out there on the streets. We must not lose sight of the incredible things that are happening all around the country and the millions of people who are wanting this all to work out well. Let’s commit to sharing at least one positive story for every negative one we pass on, but preferably more. Let’s commit to finding and sharing those stories as we see them happening around us. And to be personally involved in making those stories as we build bridges, invest in relationships, become agents of peace and love rather than soothsayers of doom.

Who is with me?



Beyond colour.


This is my friend Rob Davey who lives in Zimbabwe. i have not seen Rob for something like 10 to 15 years i imagine and yet we recently connected and i asked him if he would write a piece for this blog. i have a saying that ‘Quality Shows’ and with some people you just identify that immediately – Rob is one of these people – reading this piece will give you that impression as well. We would do well to have more Robs in the world… or at least to hear their stories shared more often – please pass this around – it is gold! Lessons for South Africa [and others] to learn from experiences in Zimbabwe:

My wife shops in a flea-market in the middle of a township in a rural town in Zimbabwe, she is tall blonde, slim and undeniably white in complexion despite a tan earned by the many hours we spend outside in the sun. She speaks a bit of the local language here, she understands quite a lot more of it than she can speak so she can hear the comments some of the people make as she walks by.

Comments along the lines of, “change the price quickly she can pay more because she is white”, or , “why is she here?, whites don’t belong here”, or better yet, “ I can get her to sleep with me , watch , these foreign murungus (white people), like what we have”.

I understand a lot more of the language and speak a fair amount of it (having been born here and spent most of my life here) and so when I am with my wife I have a very strong urge to hit someone when I hear things like this. I usually avoid this by greeting everyone I see very loudly in the local language so they know I understand, generally things go better afterwards. Quite often the people who don’t make the stupid comments will throw in a little extra with our shopping, a couple of extra avocadoes or tomatoes or bananas, given with a quiet shy smile and a gentle “have a good day” or “thank you for supporting us”.

When we mix with white people later in the day, we hear similar comments , “stupid muntus (derogatory term for a black person), they don’t know how to do anything right”, or “you cant trust these guys (black people), they just lie to you!”, quite often these people are being generous to my wife and I, sharing a meal or a cup of coffee.

We live in a situation mixed with prejudice and generosity. My wife and I live in the middle of this situation, we have black friends and white friends, we find that black people and white people speak in a similarly derogatory fashion to one another or about one another, based on assumptions made due to popular opinion, or their experience of varying incidents that they feel gives them the authority to make sweeping general statements about an entire people group. It doesn’t necessarily make them bad people , it just makes them seem stupid and ignorant, both black and white (and occasionally coloured) lumped uncomfortably in the same boat, and periodically we also find ourselves in this ship that sails to nowhere.

When we do ourselves the disservice of seeing colour as the thing that primarily defines someone else then we are stating that we too are defined by the same thing, it’s not only insulting to other people but to ourselves as it negates or nullifies the myriad of experiences we have had, from birth up until the present, that have made us who we are. Granted some of those experiences may have been a result of someone else’s perception of our value due to our skin colour, but is not the colour that defines us but rather the experience itself.

To deny someone their personhood by labelling them with a colour as a means of attributing some generalised characteristic to them opens the door for the same thing to happen to you. Don’t you hate being labelled or treated in a particular way because you are white? Or black? Or coloured? Don’t you think its unfair when those rules are applied to you? Those generalisations that seem so justified when you say them seem ludicrous when reversed. When you begin to treat people like people, when you begin to treat people in the same way you would expect to be treated , whether you have done good or bad, something changes.

During a particularly unsettled time in our country’s recent past we broke down on the side of the road in an area renowned for politically motivated racial violence. It was a public holiday and there were severe fuel shortages and so traffic was sparse and we had to spend the night on the side of the road. We had water but no food to speak of and were wondering what to do about this when a man walked up out of the darkness and greeted us politely, as custom demands here he waited to be invited into our circle before he addressed us further. He was carrying a small pot of scrambled eggs, some bread and he had another pot containing hot sweet tea, (it was a cold night). He had seen us break down and when he realised that we were staying for the night he set about making us a meal.

There are a few remarkable things about this situation, it would have been politically expedient for him to ignore us or subject us to some kind of abuse, in fact by helping us he opened himself up to being abused by others. He emptied his house of food to feed complete strangers, I know this because I went back to his hut to help him carry his belongings. We were all white and he was black.

Now on the reverse side of this, during the time of violent farm invasions a farmer friend of mine found that over the Christmas period some of the people that had violently invaded his property were stuck out there with no food, he mobilised a bunch of people and bought food and supplies and slaughtered a cow for them and delivered it all to them so that they would have food over Christmas. By doing this he opened himself up to abuse and isolation from his peers undergoing similar trials, it would have benefitted him to make sure the people invading his property had no food so that they would leave. He gave to them when he was experiencing need himself. They were all black and he was white. These are not isolated incidents, this is humanity at its best, and it happens all the time.

Remarkable things happen when we see people beyond their colour, when we see people with hopes and dreams and faults and fears before we see them as black or white or coloured. What we see is humanity as it should be. Whenever we think of colour first as a means of describing anything but the person’s appearance we all lose, immediately. I am living in Zimbabwe, it has ugliness, it has racism in abundance in every direction. It has a great deal of hardship and poverty, and I am grateful beyond measure because when we experience need we can empathise with others who do so too.

We are not called to ignore injustice, racial oppression, or any other of the violations that seem to frequent this beautiful continent. We need to address these things, but we address them simply as people, not as people of any race except that of the human race. We cannot expect people to change if we are not prepared to change ourselves, the responsibility is ours first before it is someone else’s.

[For more posts that look to rally hope for South Africa, click here]

This article first appeared in The Mercury on 27 June 2011 [and arrived in my inbox this morning]

Hope n. the feeling that events will turn out for the best.

I recently attended a small birthday party and Hope showed up. I wasn’t necessarily expecting her to be there, but that’s Hope for you; she always arrives when you least expect her.

She appeared suddenly and silently. It was almost as if she ‘spirited’ into being – like a character from a science fiction movie. She was very beautiful – radiant in fact – but some might have missed her arrival because here in South Africa we’re not that good at spotting Hope. Like beauty, she exists in the eyes of the beholder.

And this is the conundrum with Hope. On the one hand, she is a lady that would never force herself on anyone. On the other hand, we need her in order to survive. Without her, we quickly slip into despair and hopelessness and insightful thought, empathy and creative energy disappear. Hope is as essential to human life as oxygen. Starved of Hope we wither and die.

Hope presents herself in all kinds of situations. Sometimes she shows up at the simplest of events; the scene of a kind word spoken or a helping hand given. On this day, she arrived at a kid’s birthday party at a family home in Glenwood, Durban. A little girl was turning one and family and friends had been invited to join the celebration.

As with most first birthday parties, it came complete with balloons, decorations, juice and a sibling who was stung by a bee just as the cake arrived. It was all fairly typical children’s party fare – except for one or two things.

The little girl celebrating her first 12 months on earth didn’t begin life in this lovely Glenwood home, or even at nearby St. Augustine’s Hospital. She began life on a dirt road behind a clinic in Mayville. The parents hosting the party were her adoptive parents. The sibling who was stung by a bee was their first child – a biological son. The couple had decided when they married to have one child and adopt a second; a true vision of Hope for South Africa.

As I stood on a sunny balcony overlooking the festivities, I saw Hope working the crowd. She clapped and laughed as the once abandoned baby girl excitedly tore open her birthday gifts. She beamed at the cameras along with the Mum and Dad who proudly held their son and daughters hands. She spoke at length with couples both gay and straight, and sat cross-legged on a picnic blanket eating bowls of different colored sweets with different colored friends.

And as I stood there, I wondered if Hope would have felt as comfortable at the closing of the ANC Youth League’s elective conference as she did at this one year olds birthday party.

I wondered if she would agree with the popular view that the World Cup – also just one year old – was of no lasting benefit to our nation. I wondered if she was currently the house guest of nearly 50 million South Africans, or perhaps just a temporary lodger in a few homes. I wondered if she had chosen to come to this birthday party because she was tired of having the door slammed in her face at other South African homes.

And then I wondered; if Hope is essential for life, how do we live with Hope permanently? How do we make Hope the centre of the dialogue and not the peripheral side show? How do we ensure that she is not just wheeled out for special occasions like the 2010 World Cup and then put back in her box when life returns to normal? Is it possible that in the face of Apartheid style racism, xenophobic attacks, the ‘corrective rape’ of lesbian women, militaristic policing, poverty and rampant unemployment, Hope can survive – even triumph?

I believe it is, but as individuals we have to decide to welcome Hope into our homes, our offices, our places of worship and our community groups. We have to decide to seat her at the head of our family table, and make her the chairman of the board. We have to place her in the pulpit and behind the microphone and in front of the TV news cameras. She must become the starring act.

It was wonderful to see Hope again. She reminded me that South Africa is in fact working and that cohesion, tolerance and peace are being created; if not by politicians – certainly by citizens.

Flipside tip of the week:

Where there is Hope there is life. We must choose to foster Hope so that such parties become more common and those parties wishing to destroy Hope are brought down.

why i hate cars

cars are stupid – i can prove it – they have been used to kill people – drunk drivers in cars have recklessly taken thousands of innocent lives in our country alone – old cars get rusty and dangerous because people often can’t afford to give them proper maintainence and take them off the road when they should go – don’t get me started on woman drivers – or men drivers – in fact we have broken it down to this very generalised generalisation – that when women drivers drive badly it is because they drive badly (or on occasion too carefully and slowly and so cause accidents) – when men drive badly it is because they drive recklessly (usually too fast and without taking decent enough consideration of others) – i have had a number of really bad experiences with cars even just this week (overtaking on the left up a hill when there was one lane, taxi overtaking four cars in one go on a solid white approaching a corner, countless people driving right up my bum metaphorically speaking, and so on…) – a car killed one of my friends in school on his eighteenth birthday when he went out for a cycle – cars break down and cost so much money in repairs (money that could be better spent on the poor and needy) – people have been highjacked and raped and murdered in cars – my uncle drowned when his car went off the road and into a river – and i could go on and on about bad things down by car, in cars, in the name of cars…

on the other hand, i have found that when i drive my car properly it gets me from one place to another, i can use it to give other people lifts, i have had some cool chatting times to the beautiful val in the car, i have driven kids to camps and visited people in hospital and offered complete strangers a ride and and and…

and all this is not really about cars at all, but about the church and Christ-ianity… just because stoopid people have done stoopid (and hurtful, and abusive, and racist, and damaging, and thoughtless, and and and) things in, through and with church and in the name of God or a specific denomination or the church, doesn’t make it a bad or stupid or useless or ineffective or abusive thing – it just means stoopid is as stoopid does

because i have seen the church in action and i have seen Godly men and women doing incredible revolutionary life-transforming things in the name and through the power of God and His Holy Spirit – i have seen people fed and clothed and visited and prayed and cared for and xenophobia-attacked people welcomed in and looked after and and and…

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